It veers and bucks. It chases itself around in constant circles. It chatters. It thinks. It fantasizes and daydreams. Don't be upset about that. It's natural. When your mind wanders from the subject of meditation, just observe the distraction mindfully. When we speak of a distraction in insight meditation, we are speaking of any preoccupation that pulls the attention off the breath. This brings up a new, major rule for your meditation: When any mental state arises strongly enough to distract you from the object of meditation, switch your attention to the distraction briefly. Make the distraction a temporary object of meditation. Please note the word temporary. It's quite important. We are not advising that you switch horses in midstream. We do not expect you to adopt a whole new object of meditation every three seconds. The breath will always remain your primary focus. You switch your attention to the distraction only long enough to notice certain specific things about it. What is it? How strong is it? And how long does it last?

As soon as you have wordlessly answered these questions, you are through with your examination of that distraction, and you return your attention to the breath. Here again, please note the operant term, wordlessly. These questions are not an invitation to more mental chatter. That would be moving you in the wrong direction, toward more thinking. We want you to move away from thinking, back to a direct, wordless, and nonconceptual experience of the breath. These questions are designed to free you from the distraction and give you insight into its nature, not to get you more thoroughly stuck in it. They will tune you in to what is distracting you and help you get rid of it--all in one step. Here is the problem: When a distraction, or any mental state, arises in the mind, it blossoms forth first in the unconscious. Only a moment later does it rise to the conscious mind. That split-second difference is quite important, because it is time enough for grasping to occur. Grasping occurs almost instantaneously, and it takes place first in the unconscious. Thus, by the time the grasping rises to the level of conscious recognition, we have already begun to lock on to it. It is quite natural for us to simply continue that process, getting more and more tightly stuck in the distraction as we continue to view it. We are, by this time, quite definitely thinking the thought rather than just viewing it with bare attention. The whole sequence takes place in a flash. This presents us with a problem. By the time we become consciously aware of a distraction, we are already, in a sense, stuck in it. Simply put, gratitude fosters optimism, which strengthens hope. That's why it's hard to imagine a more effective soul medicine than gratitude. Medieval Christian philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." The list of things we can and should be thankful for, even in our darkest moments, is practically inexhaustible.

Sometimes severe depression makes it hard to muster gratitude for the big things like being alive or the loved ones in your life. So start with the little ones. Anyone can come up with those--the more whimsical, the better. For example, I'm grateful for ice cream and for the inspired genius who invented it. I'm glad that freshly mowed grass is part of my world on summer evenings, how it smells and how it feels on bare feet. How about you? Try saying thank you--out loud and with gusto--for teriyaki sauce or butterflies or kites or Mozart . Say thank you for hot showers and soft towels. Roller coasters. Baseball. Elvis Presley. Fireworks. Tulips poking out of the dirt. A child's unrestrained giggle. That magic moment when the lights go down in the movie theater. You get the idea. As the poet implies, gratitude is a multiplier, not of the beauty and good all around us in the world, but of our awareness of it. And gratitude also makes us more aware of the loving God responsible for it all. When dark thoughts threaten to push everything else aside, purposeful gratitude to our Creator is a powerful way to push back. Even as a kid, I learned it was incredibly liberating to own up to something I'd done that I was not proud of.

Trying to keep a dark secret from my parents, a teacher, or a friend was exhausting, like walking around with my pockets full of rocks. The moment I told the truth, it was as if the lights came on and all that weight disappeared. Even if there were still consequences to face, I learned that I always felt better to have the truth out in the open. Surround Yourself with Positivity - Find ways to surround yourself with positive energies. Images on your computer, tapes with affirmations on them, and books with positive messages will help you stay positive. Track Your Thoughts and Review them Later - Write down your thoughts as they occur to you every day in a notebook and then come back to them later to review what you were thinking and better yet, why. This works because you can identify negative thoughts at a later date and determine if they were necessary. Eliminate Self Criticism - Stop digging at yourself internally. Consider whether you've made a good decision or not and then move on. Think of ways to do better in the future, not to bash on yourself in the past. Remove Negative Influences - If someone says negative things to you or if you're surrounded by negative reinforcement, get away from it. Share with Friends or a Professional - Find someone you can share both your negative and positive thoughts with. This can be a close friend, a spouse, or even a counsellor that you would talk to on a regular basis. Be Nice to Others - This one is simple. Be nice to other people and you'll feel more positive about yourself. Displaying negativity can create negative thoughts and cause you to continue displaying negativity going forward. Find Inspiring Input in Books, Movies, or Poetry - Find quotes, movies, music or other mediums that provide you inspiration. Keep them close by and review them when you need a boost. There are many more ways you can sit down right now and create a mind-set that is more positive, more engaged and generally more interested in being successful, but it takes time. This is just a starter list - something that will help you start thinking of the world in terms of what will help you find success.

But, it takes dedication. Positivity is harder for some than others. Many of us have been living in an if-then world for too long. We think, "If this happens, then I'm stuck dealing with that." Start thinking in terms of when-will. For you, the balance of your life should be based on "when something happens, I will make something better happen". It's a powerful, affirmative attitude and it will help you remain positive even in the face of the worst possible situations. Do mental accounts lead you to make poor financial decisions? Ask yourself the following two questions: (1) Do I have emergency or other money in a savings account that's not for retirement? (2) Do I owe money on my credit cards that's carried over from month-to-month? If you answered yes to both questions, you're making poor decisions because of mental accounting. Why? You're paying a high interest rate on your debt, and receiving a low rate on your savings. It's better to pay off your credit card, and if you need money for an emergency down the road, put it on the card.20 When making your personal financial decisions, it's usually smarter to pay off your debt as soon as possible. If you have a $3,300 balance on your credit card and you're charged 18 percent interest, it would take nineteen years to pay off the debt if you make the minimum monthly payment. If you paid just $10 more than the minimum each month, you would pay the debt in only four years and save about $2,800 in interest! So what can we take away from all this? We pigeonhole our money into mental accounts, and that accounting can result in a number of unwise financial decisions. How can we overcome those problems? Treat all your money equally, whether you get it from your salary, savings, gifts, or gambling winnings. One of the best ways to do that is to first put all your money into a savings or investment account before you spend it.